Collaborative Silos

Collaboration is work in progress. It takes more time and effort to break down the "silo" effect among organizations.

A friend of mine, Jason Wells, guest wrote a blog for the Iowa Biz blog, hosted by the Business Record.  He asked about what could be done to foster more collaboration among organizations in Des Moines.

I’ve been trying to figure that out for the last 7 years.  For the reputation that Des Moines has in being one of the most charitable cities in America, having the most non-profit organizations per capita in the nation, and a great city for young professionals, there are areas that need improvement.

A better way of saying it:  we may need to demolish some silos.

There is a culture of silo thinking when it comes to organizations.  Most of it is structure, and some of it is territorial and ego.  To me, there is a sense that organizations do not like to have another organizations impede on what they are doing, and that kicks in their egos.

For disclosure, I’m going to use the organization I’m directly involved with as an example.  I serve on the American Diabetes Association of Central Iowa board.  Over the past year, we have brought in new leadership to help us rebuild our brand, mission, and our purpose:  to provide education and support individuals affected by diabetes.  We are different that what the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation does.  JDRF raises money for research to find a cure for juvenile (Type 1) diabetes in children.

A view of 7th Street in Downtown Des Moines
A view of 7th Street in Downtown Des Moines (Wikipedia)

JDRF is a great organization and does phenomenal work.  So do we at American Diabetes.  The difference is that ADA does more than raise money for research.  We provide and offer educational, nutritional, and health programs for children and adults, African-Americans, Latino Americans, namely all people who are affected by diabetes.

Regardless if that person has Type 1, Type 2, gestational, or various types of diabetes.

Would it be beneficial for both organizations to collaborate as a united front to fight and stop diabetes?  Sure.  My opinion is we can, but if JDRF chooses not to collaborate, then who am I to force them to?  I don’t know if they see us at ADA as competitors, but if they do, then it’s on my organization to go out and show the community how we can provide a service that JDRF does not to offer.

The fact being is that JDRF and ADA are committed to the same mission:  to eradicate diabetes, but they have different ways of going about it.

Ego is a touchy subject, for no one wants to admit that they have any, but organizations, in one way or another, do display a level of egotism.  They want to be the best and they’ll do everything to be on the top of everyone’s mind when it comes to people knowing who that organization is, what they do, and why people should support it.

Jason wrote that “Des Moines is near the top of the list in terms of having some of the most developed and diverse YP groups in the country…I can just about guarantee you there is a group in Greater Des Moines for you to join.”

That is true, though I have noticed that young professionals in Des Moines tend to join organizations that already has a large number of young professionals in it.  I’m guilty of that, for I’m a member of the Young Professional Connection, along with Jason (he is the past president of the YPC board).

That’s not a bad thing, but it makes it harder for other lesser-known organizations to reach out and encourage YPs to consider being involved with their causes and missions.

Before 2011, I was the only ADA board member that was under the age of 40.  I continue to have difficulty encouraging fellow YPs to be interested about diabetes.  The same can be said for someone advocating for Multiple Scerlosis, historical preservation, or tutoring at-risk students to become better students at school.

It would be nice to have her deliver my insulin shots everyday, but I digress...

Today, my board has 3 members under the age of 40.  One of them is a recent Business Record Forty Under 40 honoree.  The current makeup of the board is starting to reflect what the community looks like: diverse.  The point here is don’t join a group because everyone else is.  That’s silo thinking.   You need to expand into topics and causes you may or may not have a connection in.  It’s cool to help kids, but sometimes you have to learn how to help your peers, and other groups.

In order for a city like Des Moines to best represent it’s identity as a great city for non-profits, the number of people being involved in organizations, for-profit or non-profit, has to be distributed evenly.  .

There are some forms of collaboration, but not at the level that or vision some would like for it to be.  Collaboration takes time, patience, and sometimes a “Come-to-Jesus” moment where it doesn’t take one light bulb to go off in one person’s head.  It takes two light bulbs from both sides to see the opportunity to work towards a common goal.

The United Way and Community Health Charities is another example of how much work and time it will take for a transparent form of collaboration.  Up until 3 years ago, I did not know that the United Way doesn’t directly support or fund non-profit health organizations, which includes Alzheimer’s Association and Komen.  These groups have to be supported by CHC, which operates as a consortium for health organizations to connect with companies about their causes and fundraising.

Those are not the actual reasons, but this gives an insight from someone who has been involved in non-profits for nearly a decade about the challenges of collaboration and why there isn’t enough of it.  Can this change?  It’s possible.  It’ll have to take the right groups to establish that.  Let it be the wrong groups and the trains will jump off of the tracks very fast.

This is not to say that everyone should merge and pool all their resources into an “one-stop shop” kind of approach.  What I am saying is that organizations can collaborate on a project or goal that fits appropriately into what they are seeking to accomplish.

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